By Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 07, 2019
Members of the 123rd Air Control Squadron, an Air National Guard unit from Cincinnati, discuss a shift change at the 606th Air Control Squadron’s radar site outside Pula, Croatia, May 28, 2019. The 123rd ACS augmented the 606th ACS during Astral Knight 19, a joint, multinational exercise designed to test Europe and NATO’s integrated air and missile defense capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
Master Sgt. Heath McCoppin, 123rd Air Control Squadron electronic protection technician, chats with Chief Master Sgt. Toby Roach, 31st Operations Group superintendent, and Chief Master Sgt. Jonathan Hodgson, 606th Air Control Squadron chief enlisted manager, outside Pula, Croatia, May 28, 2019. The 123rd ACS supplied personnel and knowledge to the 606th ACS during Astral Knight 19, a joint, multinational exercise designed to test Europe and NATO’s integrated air and missile defense capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Heath McCoppin, 123rd Air Control Squadron Electronic Protection Technician, explains TPS-75 radar operations to Chief Master Sgt. Toby Roach, 31st Operations Group Superintendent at Pula Airport, Croatia, May 28, 2019. Members of the 123rd Air Control Squadron, an Ohio Air National Guard unit, is augmenting the 606th Air Control Squadron during exercise Astral Knight 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
The 606th Air Control Squadron’s radar site for Astral Knight 19, a joint, multinational exercise designed to test integrated air and missile defense in Europe, sits nestled up against the runway of a small airport just outside Pula, Croatia. For the members of the 123rd ACS an Air National Guard unit based at Blue Ash Air Station in Cincinnati, the journey to augment the 606th ACS during the exercise was nearly 5,000 miles. But despite the distance, not much has changed for the 123rd ACS, from how they approach the mission to the look of the surrounding landscape.
“The dirt is redder. It’s darker dirt,” said Senior Master Sgt. Antonio Mumfrey, 123rd ACS radar, airfield and weather systems superintendent. “But it’s not that much different.”
The 606th ACS and 123rd ACS have the same mission: to provide tactical command and control to pilots in the sky. During Astral Knight 19, members of the 123rd ACS augmented the 606th ACS both in garrison at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and convoyed with them to Croatia.
The 123rd ACS, like other guard units, holds drill weekends once a month and participates in a yearly exercise to demonstrate their capability and readiness. It’s that practice, Mumfrey says, that allows the 123rd ACS to stay ready.
“We try to treat every drill weekend like it’s a deployment,” said Mumfrey. “That’s our focus. That’s why we practice.”
Guard units often benefit from a system where service members aren’t moved bases or duty positions unless they request it, which leads to situations like that of Master Sgt. Heath McCoppin, 123rd ACS electronic protection technician.
“I’ll have been in the Air Force 30 years this September,” McCoppin said. “Twenty-one of it with the 123rd ACS.”
Both the 606th ACS and 123rd ACS have benefitted from one another’s unique experience and perspective.
“They have processes and procedures that they’ve set up and stick to that we haven’t seen before,” said Capt. Christopher Delano, 606th ACS detachment commander. “We couldn’t have supported this radar site without them.”
The 123rd ACS and the 606th ACS have enjoyed a lengthy professional relationship, with the 123rd sending members to augment the 606th regularly over the past 15 years. Astral Knight 19, however, is the first time the 123rd has supported the 606th during such a large-scale exercise.
“It’s the kind of exercise I signed up for, it just took me 13 years to get it,” Mumfrey said with a laugh.